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Albert Camus the Algerian

Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice

David Carroll
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 256
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    Albert Camus the Algerian
    Book Description:

    In these original readings of Albert Camus' novels, short stories, and political essays, David Carroll concentrates on Camus' conflicted relationship with his Algerian background and finds important critical insights into questions of justice, the effects of colonial oppression, and the deadly cycle of terrorism and counterterrorism that characterized the Algerian War and continues to surface in the devastation of postcolonial wars today.

    During France's "dirty war" in Algeria, Camus called for an end to the violence perpetrated against civilians by both France and the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) and supported the creation of a postcolonial, multicultural, and democratic Algeria. His position was rejected by most of his contemporaries on the Left and has, ironically, earned him the title of colonialist sympathizer as well as the scorn of important postcolonial critics.

    Carroll rescues Camus' work from such criticism by emphasizing the Algerian dimensions of his literary and philosophical texts and by highlighting in his novels and short stories his understanding of both the injustice of colonialism and the tragic nature of Algeria's struggle for independence. By refusing to accept that the sacrifice of innocent human lives can ever be justified, even in the pursuit of noble political goals, and by rejecting simple, ideological binaries (West vs. East, Christian vs. Muslim, "us" vs. "them," good vs. evil), Camus' work offers an alternative to the stark choices that characterized his troubled times and continue to define our own.

    "What they didn't like, was the Algerian, in him," Camus wrote of his fictional double in The First Man. Not only should "the Algerian" in Camus be "liked," Carroll argues, but the Algerian dimensions of his literary and political texts constitute a crucial part of their continuing interest. Carroll's reading also shows why Camus' critical perspective has much to contribute to contemporary debates stemming from the global "war on terror."

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51176-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface A Voice from the Past
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. INTRODUCTION “The Algerian” in Camus
    (pp. 1-18)

    Albert Camus was born in 1913 in what was then “French Algeria.” Because he was born to parents who were legally French, he enjoyed from birth the full rights and protections of French citizenship, unlike the overwhelming majority of Berber and Arab Algerians, who were denied citizenship and designated as indigenous “French subjects” or “nationals.” His father, Lucien Camus, who had spent part of his youth in an orphanage, was barely literate and worked in different vineyards in Algeria until he was drafted into the French army and died in France at the beginning of World War I. Even though...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Place of the Other
    (pp. 19-38)

    In his celebrated study of colonialism, The Colonizer and the Colonized, Albert Memmi describes how the colonial system deprives colonized peoples of their history, culture, rights, dignity, identity, and their very being:

    The colonized enjoys none of the attributes of citizenship; neither his own, which is dependent, contested, and smothered, nor that of the colonizer. He can hardly adhere to one or claim the other. Not having his just place in the community, not enjoying the rights of a modern citizen, not being subject to his normal duties, not voting, not bearing the burden of community affairs, he cannot feel...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Colonial Borders
    (pp. 39-62)

    “Algérie, France: une ou deux nations?”(“Algeria, France: One or Two Nations?”)—this is the title of an essay by Etienne Balibar that asks what would appear on the surface to be a ridiculously simple historical-political question.² For if until 1962 France claimed and the international community generally recognized that Algeria was an integral part of the French Republic, the only possible answer to the question since independence would have to be that Algeria and France constitute two nations, for not even the most reactionary ex-colon or nostalgic pied-noir could deny that Algeria and France today constitute two separate, independent states...

    (pp. 63-84)

    In 1957, in the midst of the Battle of Algiers, when both FLN terrorism and the French army’s violent repression of the civil population of Algiers, the systematic use of torture, and the execution of suspected members of the FLN were all at their peak, Albert Camus published a collection of short stories entitled Exile and the Kingdom. Four stories in the collection—“The Adulterous Woman,” “The Guest” (“L’hôte”), “The Silent Men,” and “The Renegade”—take place in Algeria and were written shortly before the outbreak of organized armed resistance. The publication of the collection precedes by less than a...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Justice or Death?
    (pp. 85-106)

    To kill or not to kill? For Albert Camus, the question of justice ultimately rests on this basic question of whether, outside actual battles fought between soldiers during war, taking the life of another human being can ever be justified. Convinced by both his deepest feelings and confirmed by his research that under no circumstances could murder be defended, he not only opposed capital punishment in the restricted, juridical sense of the term but also in a broader sense, which included political assassinations, terrorist acts, and the bombings of civilian targets, whatever the justifications given for them. Camus’ opposition to...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Terror
    (pp. 107-130)

    Albert Camus never wavered in his condemnation of terrorism—all forms of terrorism, even the form that is called counterterrorism. He could not accept that the murder of civilians could ever be defended as a legitimate means to an end, no matter how just the end was believed to be. This was the case whether terrorism consisted of placing bombs in cafés, racetracks, casinos, and offices to kill innocent men, women, and children in order to destroy the colonial system in Algeria and create a free and independent Algerian state, or whether it involved executing suspects, slaughtering demonstrators, and napalming...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Anguish
    (pp. 131-154)

    Very few today would disagree that assimilation, the proclaimed goal and chief justification for France’s “civilizing mission” in its colonies, was a colossal failure. There is still debate, however, over whether assimilation was simply a cynical, duplicitous fiction that was intended from the start to mask the harsh colonial realities of racism, oppression, and exploitation, or a misguided republican ideal that had a positive effect, no matter how limited, on colonial policy and institutions and that served as a counterforce, no matter how weak, to some of the worst injustices of colonialism. In her study of French colonialism in West...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Last Words
    (pp. 155-178)

    Camus refers to Algeria numerous times in his essays as his “true country.” But no matter how emotionally attached he was to Algeria, no matter how lyrically he describes its physical beauty and the generosity of its people, the Algeria depicted in his writings is anything but a political paradise. For as we have seen, in numerous essays from the late 1930s through 1958, Camus consistently denounces the radical separation between the “French” and “Arab” populations of Algeria and the oppression, humiliation, and exploitation of colonized Algerians as unacceptable injustices. It is true that Algeria is frequently represented in his...

  13. CONCLUSION Terrorism and Torture: From Algeria to Iraq
    (pp. 179-186)

    In the spring of 2003, it was reported that Gillo Pontecorvo’s 1965 film, “The Battle of Algiers,” was being shown to the American military intelligence officers who would be involved in planning and carrying out the interrogation of suspects and other counterterrorist activities in Iraq. One can only speculate as to what lessons those watching the film were expected to learn, but the Pentagon announcement claimed that the film showed how the French plan for Algeria had succeeded “tactically” but failed “strategically.”¹ It would be interesting to know specifically why Pentagon strategists thought that France’s overall strategy had failed, even...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 187-230)
  15. Index
    (pp. 231-238)